Since the earliest days of Winona Lake and Warsaw, choral and instrumental musical ensembles have enriched the lives of residents in the area. With the founding of Grace College in 1948, however, it became common for joint college-community groups to form and perform.
In 1959, an area instrumental ensemble directed by Willard Snapp was featured in the summer program of the Rodeheaver School of Music in Winona Lake. In the 1960s, Terry White directed a joint college-community wind ensemble. For many years Jerry Franks, virtuoso trumpeter, clinician for Elkhart-based instrument manufacturers, and Grace College artist-in-residence maintained a popular college-community band and produced several recordings. That tradition has continued under the baton of longtime community band director Martin Becker.
Ethel Anderson organized a concert orchestra, again composed of Grace family and community players, along with hired professionals. This organization continued under the direction of Ardis Faber. Local musicians Richard and Ethel Anderson promoted local performances and several groups were formed, including an occasional orchestra called the Warsaw Symphony.
The natural successor to the Warsaw Symphony was Symphony of the Lakes, an orchestra founded in 2004 and directed by CPAF director Patrick Kavanaugh. The year-round orchestra was directed by Kavanaugh until he retired after the first concert of the 2012 – 2013 season, going on to direct the MasterWorks festival which remained in Winona Lake until 2015.
In 2005 the orchestra chose to change its name for two reasons. First, there was already a Warsaw Symphony Orchestra in Poland, which has a deep rich recording history and makes them very well known in the Classical music world. Second, symphonies are generally named for the largest town in the area. Warsaw is the largest city of Kosciusko County, but the orchestra’s support base is bigger than the name implied.
In the summer of 2013, the Symphony of the Lakes was brought under the non-profit umbrella of Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts. Under new leadership, the Symphony spent the latter part of 2013 reorganizing and gathering former/current/new members into the fold to “reboot” the Symphony of the Lakes. A symphony committee was formed to be the primary support for the orchestra, and in December of 2013 the first concert under new management took place. Thomas Stirling, the Musical Director at Wagon Wheel Theatre, became conductor of the Symphony. This was followed up by two more performances in March and May of 2014—in which the first subscription season was introduced, which would include four Classical concerts, two Pops concerts, and one Chamber Concert.
The Symphony Committee is a sub-set of the board of Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts, and continues its annual concert schedule, fund raising, and Young Artists Competition.